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Automotive detailing is a fairly a self-explanatory procedure, in that it involves a “detailed” cleaning process, oftentimes accompanied by the restoration of damaged components. Externally, detailing helps protect paint, glass, and body parts form harmful UV rays, contaminants, and damage stemming from driving.
Today, the detailing business has become a multi-billion dollar industry, with the economic pistons pumping beneath its bonnet consisting of thousands of unique detailing products, all with their own unique genetic backbone, sales approach, and market distribution. To put the magnitude of this operation into scope, in the United States alone, the auto detailing market was valued at $10.3 billion USD in 2021, and that’s after taking a massive hit due to COVID-19.
When someone decides to detail their vehicle, they’ll likely follow these general guidelines:
Detailing a car isn’t a particularly difficult task. Yet even the act of washing a vehicle holds the potential of casing great harm if one follows the wrong procedures or uses the wrong products. But knowing the necessary steps and what products work best is just half the battle.
For instance, if you own any towels, mitts, or any other car cleaning fabric or sponge-like material that is not microfiber, you might want to to throw them out. The trash bin is the only place for products that leave scratches on vehicle surfaces.
Now that we’ve dropped that little nugget of knowledge on you, it’s time to turn to another one of the most important thing you can do to keep your car’s finish looking like new: Wash it regularly. And do it the right way.
Contaminants like dirt, mud, road grime, bird turds, bug guts, pollen, deicers, and and sap all slowly seep into a car’s clear coat if allowed to sit for too long. Being lazy is only going to hurt you in the long run, so scrub that machine down once a week if possible, and remember the following six golden rules of car washes.
1. Never wash your car in direct sunlight
Almost all detailing products will perform poorly in direct sunlight or on a hot surface. Heat also speeds-up the drying of soap and water, which translates to stubborn water spots and streaks. Always work indoors or in the shade, and only when all of the vehicle’s exterior surfaces are cool to the touch.
2. Avoid cross-contamination
Cross-contamination during a car wash occurs when you use the same materials for every stage of the cleaning process. So don’t use the same items (towels, brushes, buckets, water, etc.) for multiple purposes or areas of the automobile. The reasoning here is that you don’t want to move contaminants from one part of the vehicle to another, or use a filthy microfiber mitt to scrub a relatively clean section. This is particularly important to remember when tackling extra dirty areas like wheels, lower rocker panels, bumpers, and exhaust ports.
3. Use the two-buckets-and-a-beer technique
While dumping your water often, and not using the same cloth or mitt for every surface will help cut down on cross-contamination, using the two-buckets-and-a-beer approach is just as crucial. By having one bucket for rinse water, and one for sudsy H2O, you create a safe place for dunking that filthy sponge between scrubs, which in turn helps keep that bucket of soapy shampoo free from contaminants. The beer is there for moral support.
4. Work your way from the top down
The lower portions of an automobile come into close contact with road contaminants, and you don’t want that filth to spread to the vehicle’s far more pristine upper portions. That said, it’s generally a good idea to hit your wheels and tires first, but not with a scrubbing session and soap. Use a trusted spray-on and rinse-off chemical that is approved for the type of wheels you roll atop, as it will allow the filthiest part of the car to get hit with a concentrated blast. After that, wash the car from top-to-bottom, saving the wheels and tires for last, using a different scrubbing media for their surfaces to avoid cross-contamination.
5. Always use lubrication
Outside of a gentle wipe-down with an ultra-plush microfiber dusting cloth, vehicle paint and clear coat require something slippery to prevent marring.
6. Get the right supplies and towels
As we previously mentioned, using sponges and traditional cloth wash towels on a vehicle’s exterior is akin to breaking out some 120-grit sandpaper in the shower. It’ll exfoliate alright, but at what cost? Get yourself a proper wash-mitt and make the marginal investment in some plush microfiber towels, for cleaning and drying your car, as both of these items will greatly reduce the risk of scratching the surface. While you’re at it, go ahead and order a pH balanced car shampoo too, because while household dishwashing liquid does a number on bacon grease, it will royally fuck-up a car’s clear coat.